My Family

My Family
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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Martin Luther King day in school

The charter school Ella and Jacob attend does not take Martin Luther King day off. It's our first year there, so I'm not sure why that is, but they were only back two days from their long winter break before MLK day, so perhaps that is why.
I asked them in what ways the school or teachers recognized the day. Ella said that basically they just said - Happy Martin Luther King day. Not quite what I was hoping for. Jacob said they read a book detailing Dr. King's life. He said as his teacher was reading everyone turned around to look at Jacob. Apparently he is now the only black kid in his class, so when they were discussing segregation they naturally looked at him. He didn't like that - who could blame him. I told him that likely the kids looked at him because they had never heard there was a time when kids of different colors weren't allowed to be in school together. And I do believe that that is probably true. Everyone wants to believe that we can be color blind, but we aren't, nor do I necessarily think we should be.
In a Newsweek article from Sept. 2009 titled "See Baby Discriminate" three groups of families were asked to discuss racial equality with their children. The first group were simple given multiculturally themed videos, the second group used the videos and were to follow up with a discussion and the third group were given a checklist of topics, but no videos. Out of about 30 families in the third group - 5 abruptly quit the study. Two told the researchers, "We don't want to have these conversations with our child. We don't want to point out skin color." Hey guess what everybody - they've already noticed! The study went on to discover that those who thought their goal of "teaching" their kids to be colorblind actually taught the opposite. When asked, "Do your parents like black people?" Fourteen percent said outright, "No, my parents don't like black people." 38% answered that they didn't know. By ignoring people's race parents actually were telling their kids different must be bad.
This is my opinion, but living in a suburb where diversity exists, but as I stated Jacob is still the only black kid in his class, we, as parents, have to talk about it - in a positive way - but we must address that race does exist. How do we do that? Well, I'd say taking advantage of Martin Luther King day, for instance, is a good start. Discuss who he was and what he did. Go to one of the many special events that go on the weekend before the holiday. Send them to me - I'll tell them the story of how I got to shake his hand as a little girl. Beyond that, seek out multicultural friends and don't be afraid to discuss their differences - notice the difference in hair, skin etc. Don't make it the focus, just work it in to the conversation. I have an adult son who made me aware of using color when describing someone - everyone - "my friend Mary - she's white, has blond hair and blue eyes, about my height" - it is a part of our description and our reality and not only used for people who's skin is different from mine. I always ask my kids what color the person's skin is when they describe them, it's simply a part of their description, not the focus.
Thankfully, on Wed. the kids came home to tell me they had a special program about Dr. King, his legacy and how people are different and the same. Yes were are, but talking about our differences is just as important as pointing out how much the same we are - in our house different is good - really good.

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